Italia 90, why nothing compares.

    By Ben Whisker

    Why do some tournaments last in the memory? Why should one summer month every four years with random teams over the world stand out from any other? All questions that each and every football fan will have a different answer to which none will be the same. More so than ever, with my total apathy towards England at the moment makes the utter magic of Italia 90 live long into a footballing memory that's filled with disappointment (I'm a Middlesbrough fan).

    Age has a lot to do it any chosen tournament. As a parent, professional with responsibility and the fact that Rugby League comes before football for me would mean that Russia ‘18 is unlikely to capture my passion, that I become obsessed with it, and quite rightly so being so close to forty.

    When you are nine though and you've only really ever seen English players on ITVs Big Match. When you've never heard of Cameroon and suddenly aware that there is a different rhythm and beat from the terraces abroad then things changes, When you realise that for every Kevin Sheedy there is a Roberto Baggio, that for every Kenilworth Road there is the San Siro then the obsession grows. Watching Cameroon defeat Maradona and co on day one just twisted the order of the World Cup.

    Eire pulling a draw against Euro 88 Champions Holland in the group stage, watching Rene Higuita play as a goalkeeper/sweeper and some super sub Schillachi dig Italy out just made me want to watch more. It could only get better. You know the Irish team so well because half of them were English gave me a second team (and Bernie Slaven was in the squad too!) to follow. You felt like you had to hate the Germans (cos that's how you were brought up) but painfully realising they were a footballing machine to be admired and seeing the total passion from Italy for their team, in their World Cup with a ponytailed genius to adore, Roberto Baggio.

    England doing well helps, it has too. Yes we started slowly but we had Gazza, a bona fide footballing God who played with a smile on his face, who made Gullit, Scifo Matthaus look bang ordinary as he danced around them...o the joy. Could it be our year? How will I get through the next day a junior school before we try to topple Cameroon? This all builds up inside you, cements in your memory and as time passes this doesn't fade. Surely it'll be this good again in USA 94 and every other tournament?

    The genuine pain of England losing in the Semi Final has only been matched once for me in football, Emily Heskey scoring a last minute extra time goal against Boro, in the League Cup Final in 1997. It's a genuine feeling in your gut that you can't put into words, gutting, dismay, should I cry, can we turn back the clock, can't we re-take the penalties again? Dreams shattered which you struggle to process at nine. Knowing Maradona the cheating genius was there to have revenge dropped on him from a great height four years later couldn't happen in the final. With the mess the Argentines were in maybe we could have recreated 1966 and all its success and history? Still we'll be there in America in 94 and we'll win next time won't we?

    Euro 96 was fantastic tournament however at fifteen you've tasted the bitterness of defeat only six years earlier so the nativity of optimism isn't quite there. You know now penalties in a semi final against the Germans isn't going to work out. The innocence of youthful enthusiasm of 'everything will be fine' is starting to wear off. By France 98 the disappointment is only made easier due to me watching the game in the pub!

    Through the 90s I'd tick off the players who were present that summer in Italy when I saw the Boro play, marking them off in an imaginary I-Spy book. Shilton, Gazza, Chris Morris, Pearce, Slaven, Walker Townsend (my obsession with this tournament was still clearly there into the late 90s)....the highlight however was meeting Trevor Steven (has that sentence been written before) in a professional capacity.

    Whilst my colleagues asked him questions about his company and what they could do for us I simply couldn't resist asking what that night in Turin was like and if he'd have taken a penalty? This was my moment, my one and only moment to get a direct understanding of what it was like to be there at Italia 1990. It was like a valve being ever so slightly released on this obsession, meeting someone there, sixteen years on. He was all set to take the next penalty after Chris Waddle and was confident he'd have put it away!

    Shattered dreams but glorious, glorious memories. When I play against the dog in the back garden I am still Baggio scoring against the Czechs with the BBC commentary to boot! Taffarel, Kilnsman, Biyik, Schillachi, Caniggia, Gazza, Bonner etc thank you, as you make me believe there will be another 'Italia 90' one day!!! Failing that I hope every footballing fan, whatever age has the glorious feeling towards 'that' tournament, past or present that can keep them warm when all else is failing around them in whichever World Cup they are watching at the time.